Just in case you didn’t stay up and watch all 4 hours and 7 minutes of Tuesday night’s Royals game, let’s cut to the chase: they lost in the 10th inning. A whole bunch of stuff happened in first nine innings, but to simplify my life and yours, let’s concentrate on that final inning.
For starters, Kelvin Herrera did not pitch the 10th.
Theoretically, Herrera should have been available, but when a reliever isn’t available, teams don’t want that information out there; why let the other team know your closer isn’t going to throw? If there’s a reason Herrera wasn’t available, I missed it, but I’ll ask around when I go to the park today.
The whole Herrera thing comes up because the Royals tied the game in the eighth inning. And when that happens, managers will often use their closer for the ninth, as long as they’re playing the game at home. If the closer does his job in the top of the ninth, he gives you two shots at winning the game: the bottom of the ninth and, no matter what the other team does in the next half-inning, the bottom of the 10th.
But Matt Strahm got the final out in the eighth and then went out to pitch the ninth. And the way Strahm’s been pitching, that’s not a bad decision. But when the Royals didn’t score in the bottom of the ninth, Joakim Soria got the call ... and this season, Soria’s had his problems.
The top of the 10th
Brian McCann led off and singled to the opposite field. McCann was replaced by pinch runner Aaron Hicks and the Yankees were in business. Next, Chase Headley lined a single over second baseman Raul Mondesi’s head. There were runners at first and second base.
Soria then got tough and punched out Aaron Judge (nope, not related) and Tyler Austin.
Soria went 0-2 on Brett Gardner, then began to nibble. He threw what looked like a 1-2 split-fingered change in the dirt; it bounced in front of home plate and Salvador Perez failed to block it.
To be fair, it looked like the pitch caught the front of the plate and stayed down, but Salvy has a habit of putting his mitt on the ground when blocking a pitch (the right thing to do) and then pulling the mitt back up (the wrong thing to do); the mitt should stay down. The ball went under Salvy’s mitt and both runners advanced.
With first base now open, Soria tried to make a couple more pitcher’s pitches, but he wound up walking Gardner.
With the bases loaded and two down, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a grounder up the middle. Soria tried to field it but fell down in the process and the ball ricocheted off his foot. Christian Colon picked it up, but not in time to get the out at first base. And the Yankees scored the go-ahead run.
Soria’s finishing position
One more thing before we leave the top of the 10th inning: After the game, Soria described Ellsbury’s hit as an easy grounder, but he thought he might have slipped when trying to field it.
This much is certain: Soria does not finish a pitch in good fielding position. But that’s no knock on Soria; these days, hardly any pitchers finish in good fielding position, and there are at least two reasons for that:
1.) Their follow-through usually has them falling off to the glove side
2.) There are two places on a pitcher’s body he does not want hit by a line drive, and his head is one of them. Take a moment and figure out the second one … that’s right. So if a pitcher finishes sideways to the plate he protects his private parts and then only has to worry about keeping the ball off his head.
Soria fell off to the left and the ball was hit to his right; when he tried to reach back across his body, he fell down ... and that allowed a run to score.
The bottom of the 10nth
Ben Heller came in to close the game for the Yankees and started things off with a bang. He hit Raul Mondesi. When Mondesi got to first base, Rusty Kuntz leaned in and if I’m any good at reading lips said, “1.4.”
That referred to how long Heller was taking to get the ball to home plate: 1.4 seconds. And that’s an open invitation for a guy as fast as Mondesi to steal second base … which he did.
Jarrod Dyson then hit a line drive up the middle and Mondesi broke back to the bag. I’m not really sure if that was the right play; you’re supposed to freeze on a line drive. But if a runner looks around before the pitch, he should know if a line drive hit to his left is headed toward anybody. But to be fair, even if Mondesi broke right away, I’m not sure he scores. The ball was hit hard and Jacoby Ellsbury was on it quickly and moving forward as he fielded the ball.
So there were runners at first and third until Dyson took advantage of that 1.4 delivery time and stole second. Once he did, the Royals had the tying and winning run in scoring position with nobody out.
But they needed to get the ball in play, and both Lorenzo Cain and Kendrys Morales struck out.
Once again I’ll do my angry-old-man-chasing-kids-off-his-lawn imitation: When’s the last time you saw somebody choke up with two strikes? Drew Butera chokes up all the time, but that’s because he used his dad’s bats when he was a kid and they were too big for him. Once again, it’s not really a knock on Cain and Morales; these days pitchers finish sideways and nobody chokes up with two strikes.
Perez chased a pitch well outside the zone and hit an easy flyball out to end the game.
But give the Royals some credit
The Royals battled back from a 4-0 deficit, tied the game and had a rally going in the final inning. Fans love them for their never-say-die attitude, and this club showed it again Tuesday night. But it’s still frustrating to lose a game because pitchers finish sideways and batters don’t choke up with two strikes.
Now if you’ll excuse me; I have to go out in the driveway and practice my two-handed set shot.